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Exercise is the way to life at 85

She is not available the morning I call for an interview. It’s Monday, so Renee Economides is out with the ladies, masked and sneakered, power walking their usual three miles around El Oso Grande Park near her home.

From there, she is heading to the gym for a Silver Sneakers fitness class for seniors and to lift weights, so maybe we can chat in the afternoon, her daughter suggests.

This is just the beginning of Economides’ six-day regimen, which includes a weekly 10-mile bike ride up the Tramway trail, two additional three-mile walks, two additional gym workouts and two mornings of 1½-hour aerobics classes she has taught for the past 32 years.

“Sunday,” the 85-year-old Albuquerque woman says, “is my day of rest.”

I wonder, though, just how restful her Sundays are. She’s an energetic woman, no couch potato, no slouch.

“I do watch a little TV, but I’ve never been able to sit still for long,” she says when we finally chat. “I feel guilty not doing something.”

This is Economides’ routine for as long as anybody can remember, and it is likely why at her age she is in such terrific shape.

“I can’t even recall the last time I was sick,” she says.

Daughter Cheryl Armstrong suggested that her mother’s healthy lifestyle might make a good column for the new year when thoughts turn to resolutions, however fleeting, to become our best, svelte selves.

Renee Economides, 85, returns from a gym workout and a three-mile walk, part of her multi-activity regimen that keeps her feeling young and energetic. (Courtesy of Cheryl Armstrong)

“I thought her story might encourage other seniors that it is possible to stay healthy as they age,” Armstrong said.

Why stop at seniors, though? Her mother just might inspire folks of any age, perhaps even those like me who have grown too soft, too sedentary, too disinclined to move much farther than to the kitchen table or the keyboard in these COVID-19 days of isolation and ennui.

“You’ve got to keep your body moving, because if you don’t you will lose everything,” Economides explains.

We know this, but, for many, knowing is not translating into doing.

A study published in the International Journal of Exercise Sciences in October suggests that adults have increased the daily amount of sitting and being sedentary by between 26% and 60%, depending on their level of activity pre-pandemic.

And it’s not just the adults. A BioMed Central Public Health study released in September found that more than 25% of parents reported their children ages 5 to 8 were engaging much less in physical activity now than before the pandemic shut down schools and most team sports. For children ages 9 to 13, that lack of physical exercise rose to nearly 50%.

The study warned that even short-term changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior in reaction to COVID-19 may become permanently entrenched, leading to increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Even without a pandemic, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously fragile. On average, 80% of our 2021 vows to lose weight and get fit, ubiquitous ads for Nutrisystem and Peloton notwithstanding, will fizzle by the second week of February.

For Economides, exercise and eating a well-balanced diet have been a way of life. In 1955, she married her high school sweetheart, James Economides, himself a health-minded man who went on to become a University of New Mexico baseball star and a four-time world champion handball player before his death in 2014 at age 79.

She graduated from UNM with honors and a degree in home economics in 1957, went on to study nutrition, worked in her husband’s orthodontic practice and raised their two daughters.

In between, she always found time to exercise.

“I know she played a lot of tennis years ago,” Armstrong said. “And then maybe in the ’70s she started doing aerobic exercises, weight lifting and cutting down on fats.”

Around 1988, Economides started teaching an aerobics class at Heights Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where she and her students sweated to the Christian music twice a week. COVID-19 forced the classes to be canceled at her church, but she continues to teach the class in a large office space with two to three loyal attendees who follow COVID-19 restrictions.

She is not one for fad diets – no keto, vegetarian, vegan, snake, paleo, raw or intermittent fasting. But also no junk food, no sodas. Just a balanced meal of vegetables, salads, meats and a daily protein shake.

“She does love her sweets at night,” her daughter admits.

She favors herbal tea and plenty of water and carries a 28-ounce bottle of it with her wherever she goes.

Other than medication for thyroid and bladder and several nutritional supplements such as fish oil, multivitamin and antioxidants, she takes no prescription drugs for the usual aging ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis.

Economides said she has no secret to her healthy success other than simply doing it and sticking with it.

“Even if I’m not feeling like it, I push myself,” she said. “I enjoy what I do, and I feel good because of it, but it’s nothing special. The secret, if there is one, is to just start doing it and then keep on doing it.”

It doesn’t take much – other than a good pair of shoes, Economides says – to take a walk or move in some healthy way. So just do it.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

 

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